Cultural Diversity, Diversity Conferences


Same-Sex Marriage Rulings: A Home Run v. A Single

Source: Indiana University

Brian Powell, an Indiana University sociologist who has long studied Americans’ views on marriage and family, including same-sex marriage, said “The Supreme Court decisions both reflect where public opinion is today and will shape the future of public opinion on same-sex marriage.”

Powell describes the Defense of Marriage Act ruling as historic, saying it would have been unimaginable five to 10 years ago. Its importance comes in part because it clearly states that same-sex couples -- those who are legally married in a state that allows same-sex marriage -- are deserving of the rights and benefits of marriage provided by the federal government. In contrast, the Proposition 8 ruling is not as expansive, but the sheer size of the state is significant.

Before the ruling, approximately one in six Americans lived in a state that legally allowed same-sex marriage or accepted same-sex marriage that was granted in another state. Once same-sex marriage rights are restored in California, this number will increase to about one in three Americans.

“The DOMA decision is a bold decision, while the Prop 8 decision is a timid one,” said Powell, author of "Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definitions of Family" (Russell Sage Foundation, 2010). “In baseball lingo, it’s akin to DOMA being a home run and Prop 8 being a walk or a single.”

In United States v. Windsor, the court tossed out a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). And in Hollingsworth v. Perry, it let stand a lower-court ruling that overturned Proposition 8, California's voter initiative outlawing gay marriage.
Powell has conducted several nationally representative surveys of Americans’ opinions of family, beginning in 2003, and has watched support for same-sex unions grow 2 percent to 2.5 percent a year, which he describes as surprisingly speedy for such a controversial social issue.

“Both Supreme Court decisions were 5-4 decisions, with both of them ultimately siding with people who are in favor of marriage equality,” he said. “Ironically, that 5-4 split is very similar to where Americans are right now, with slightly more people being in favor of gay marriage and slightly less being opposed.”

Powell is the Rudy Professor of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington and can be reached at 812-360-0474 or For additional assistance, contract Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or or Steve Hinnefeld at 812-856-3488 or


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